Movies & TV

Netflix's Away Is the Sci-Fi Series For Our Time of Mass Isolation

A group of astronauts led by Hilary Swank take social distancing to the next level in their emotional journey to Mars.
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Leaving home is, for many of us, an inevitable rite of passage. But what happens when home follows you wherever you go, and all you want is to collapse the thousands of miles between you and the person you love, crying inconsolably on the other end of the phone?

This is the emotional crux of Netflix’s Away, a sprawling, ten-episode space drama about a crew of astronauts experiencing unfathomable personal hardships--all while millions of miles apart from their loved ones.

As the coronavirus pandemic scythes through public life, separating us for months on end from everyone we love, near and far, many of us have never felt more like an isolated astronaut, hurtling ever further away from our friends and families with no end in sight.

Photo by NETFLIX

With sky-high production value, the show is often breathtakingly beautiful, steeped in the splendor and scale of outer space. In one unforgettable sequence, Emma and Ram are inundated by frozen droplets of water during a spacewalk, with shards of crystalline ice drifting around them in a starlit ballet.

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Photo by Photo by NETFLIX.

Photo by NETFLIX.

Earthbound scenes about Matt and Alexis fall comparatively flat, with the ups and downs of Alexis’ angsty teenhood—boys, dirtbikes, tantrums—making for frankly snoozy television.

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Photo by NETFLIX
Photo by NETFLIX.

But those scenes, while less exciting than the high-wire drama of surviving in a tin can, serve their purpose in building the emotional core of the show: Emma’s imperfect but striving family, all of whom always find their way back to one another.

Yet for all its lofty visions about space, Away’s greatest success is in depicting the constant pain of what it’s like to miss someone you love, and to be absent when that person needs you most.

Swank is excellent in inhabiting the agony Emma experiences as she hurtles ever farther away from a hospitalized husband and her confused, angry daughter.

In Emma’s darkest moments, an imaginary Matt appears to her in her claustrophobic bunk, providing words of encouragement to keep her going. Many scenes feature a frustrated Emma struggling to communicate with her family over a wonky comm link, reflecting the Zoom trials and tribulations we’ve all experienced this year.

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'Away' Official Trailer

In a time when so many of us are so far from the people who feel like home, Away makes for a dazzling show about the final frontier, to be certain, but also a welcome parable about the matters of the heart that matter most, even in the face of unprecedented human progress.

If you take just one thing away from the show, let it be this: call your mom. No matter how close or how far she is, she’s probably dying to hear from you.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.comMinor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Adrienne Westenfeld
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